Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Little Scream

Little Scream’s music is as quirky and contradictory as her moniker. A violinist and pianist since childhood, she began writing songs at age 15. It was years later, in Montreal, that she took the stage, shed the name Laurel Sprengelmeyer and became Little Scream. Her genre-blending, spacey sound and multi-layered, elegant instrumentation caught the attention of the indie music scene and she soon opened for acts like Atlas Sound, Stars and Handsome Furs.

Little Scream’s new album, “The Golden Record,” was titled after the 1977 Voyager space shuttle and features her own oil painting as the cover. Co-produced with Richard Reed Parry and incorporating the talents of members of Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre and the National, “The Golden Record” is a delightfully complex collection of songs, leaving Little Scream poised to be the buzz band heard around the world.

I talked to Little Scream while she enjoyed a Rice Krispies treat in a British Columbia airport.

The last time you were in Minnesota, you opened for Sharon Van Etten. You brought a local saw player whom you’d just met onstage. Tell the story of how that happened.

Little Scream: We were playing a show, I think it was in Utah or one of those strange in-between places, and a guy came up to us afterwards and said he was a saw player from Minneapolis on a work trip. Saw is an instrument I really wanted to put on an album but I just never got to have it, so I invited him to play when we came to Minneapolis. We met up a couple hours before the show and he had heard the album so he knew what sound we were going for. He’s actually playing with us at the Triple Rock show and going with us to Chicago and Milwaukee, too.

That must take a certain amount of trust to bring someone you don’t know to perform with you. Do you invite musicians to back you like that often?

LS: From time to time, but no, not a whole, whole lot. In Montreal, there are certain musicians I can do that with, like "Let’s have a cellist for this show." It’s a fun, fun thing to do, but I’ve pulled in the reins on that somewhat because I want to have a solid show. It’s a balance. I still want that awesome spontaneous element in the show, too, because it makes it more exciting for the audience.

You were born in Iowa but Little Scream was conceived in Montreal. How did your path lead you there and why did you decide to stay?

LS: I hadn’t been there before I decided to move there. I was dating somebody at the time, a French speaker whose brother lived there, so I went with him. Then I got into a cool program at Concordia and found work right out of school, so I always had Visas. It took a couple of years to admit that I’d moved there because I felt very transient, but it’s a great, vibrant place and it is my home now, though I’ve hardly lived there this past year.

Do you have Canadian citizenship?

LS: I have permanent residency and the citizenship is being processed. I’m going to keep my U.S. citizenship, too, but I’ve been living in Montreal for ten years now and it feels like home to me.

Having lived in both the U.S. and Canada, are there certain things you think one country does better than the other?

LS: That is a tough question. It’s a good question. I would have to think about that for a while. [Pauses] What the U.S. could learn from the people of Canada is how to have political discussions without going to extremes. It’s unfortunate, but people in the U.S. don’t communicate like adults when they’re talking about politics. People in Canada can disagree with one another and still make things happen in the government. Don’t get me wrong; the U.S. is an amazing place and they have a sense of confidence that is lacking in Canada. Everyone here is always saying “I’m sorry, I ‘m sorry, I’m sorry.” It’s like the Midwest in that way. Maybe that’s why I feel at home here. That’s a really great question, though. I’m sure I’ll come up with ten great responses as soon as we get off the phone. [Laughs]

You did a really cool video with La Blogothèque. How did that come about? Did they just call you and say, “Meet us at this park?” And what is the deal with the runner at the end of the video? Was he a band member?

LS: More and more people are taping live, acoustic videos these days, but La Blogothèque is the original. We got contacted by them on the last couple of days of our tour, but because it’s outdoors and acoustic, we couldn’t accommodate the entire band. So we went to this park and our keyboard player Kaveh (Nabatian) happened to jog by. We couldn’t bring keys, so there was nothing for him to play, but since we ran into him, I told him to work out in the video. I made him do jumping jacks.

What’s great is that at the end of the video, the runner’s footsteps act as percussion. Did you plan that?

LS: It just sort of happened. If there’s anything I could have had more of in that video, it would have been more of Kaveh working out. I wanted it to be the “Workout to Little Scream” video. [Laughs.]

Do you have plans to make a more stylized video, something like a Florence & the Machine, over-the-top production with costumes?

LS: We had a lot of video plans but we’ve been traveling so much, some things we haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s funny because videos are both easy and hard. It’s easy to have ideas for concepts but it’s tricky to make them come out in the way you want them to.

You’ve said that “The Golden Record” wasn’t a concept album and that the songs are each their own universe. After completing the album and listening to it all the way through, however, did you see any themes or a narrative arc or do the songs still seem like separate entities?

They are still separate universes but the order they were put in was conscious. There is a definite narrative arc with the elements of triumph, hope and despair, at least for me. It’s like a soundtrack to a film that only I know the story to.

You’re also a painter. Is that related to your music or are they separate endeavors? Has a painting ever inspired a song or vice versa?

LS: They’re separate but they come out of the same vein. I didn’t realize until recording this album how related they are, but I showed some people the paintings and listening to them describe the paintings made me see the parallels in my songs. I also paint because I’m shy and painting is the opposite of performing in that regard. I paint alone, in a studio, where no one’s watching me, but with music, I can’t hide.

Do you get stage fright?

LS: Yeah, I do. It’s tricky because while I’m playing, I’m fine. It’s in between the songs when I have to talk that I feel weird, shy and awkward. I’ve been thinking I need a stand-up comic or an actor to fill in for me between songs so I don't have to feel that way.

You also seem to have a fascination with planets and all things celestial.

LS: I do. I love astronomy and space and stars. It’s constantly mind-blowing. I’m like a teenager on weed when I think about space. I’m in awe of how big the universe is.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Nov. 2011

Photo above by Rachel Granovsky